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Beat the Drum
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by PaulBryant

"It’s easy to save souls, it's harder to save lives."
4 stars

30 million people in the Sub-Saharan portion of Africa are estimated to be currently living with HIV/AIDS. 12 million children have been orphaned by the virus in the continent. Beat the Drum tells us this at the end of its story, and before it does, it offers us the story of one such orphan, a native Zulu named Musa (Junior Singo), who must fight for his own survival, and ends up fighting for the survival of an entire people.

Living in the small South African village of KwaZulu Natal has taken its toll on young Musa. His mother has died of “the sickness”, and when the film begins, his father is afflicted as well. Because old habits always die hard, the people who live in this traditional obscurity believe not that they aren’t dealing with a disease, but that Musa’s family is cursed. Already poor and getting poorer, Musa’s grandmother agrees with a witchdoctor that they must slay the family’s cow in order to appease the gods. Showing just how disconnected and yet how close the family is to the real medical expertise of the big city, the village’s shaman is clad in a less than traditional single-breasted suit.

Now without a main source of sustenance, and feeling shunned by schoolmates who believe in the curse, Musa heeds his father’s dying words and does his best to become the “man of the family”. He sets out with the last thing his father gave him, a simple drum, on a journey into Johannesburg in hopes of finding his estranged uncle, and to make enough money there to buy his family a new cow. Somehow, finding a solitary man in the vast sea of Johannesburg commuters proves a formidable task for a young boy, and though Musa makes a noble effort by washing car windows at traffic lights, his journey appears to be in vain.

In vain, that is, until he meets Letti (Noluthando Maleka), a street girl his age who tries to teach him the art of pick-pocketing. Musa doesn’t take to the idea of taking, but absorbs the streetwise advise Letti gives him, including some information on just what this “sickness” business really is. Once he learns that AIDS is a disease, and that the disease is the thing responsible for the deaths of so many of his countrymen and so much of his family, Musa makes it his goal to spread the word to stop the spread of the disease. Along with his new found pal, Nobe, Musa becomes a single voice against a powerful ideology of denial that afflicts so much of his country.

Carrying off both the innocence and idealism of a character as young as Musa would seem an unapproachable goal for any actor. Junior Singo in the main role is fantastic, pulling together a performance full of pain, responsibility, grief, and heroism with what looks like relative ease. He made me a fan in the first few minutes, and I’ll search out his future work with great curiosity. The other performers are slightly overshadowed by his power, especially given the sidebar importance of a story about an executive and his HIV-infected son, which never blends as well as it should into Musa’s narrative.

Sure-handed direction from David Hickson, and beautiful widescreen cinematography by Lance Gewer make Beat the Drum easy on the eyes, and the screenplay, despite dialogue that slowly becomes more and more preachy, is extremely well structured. Musa’s powerful quest is enough to supply the movie its emotional effect, but the dialogue tends to knock the nail in the hole once its already in.

An important story to say the least, and a very well made movie on all accounts. Beat the Drum is as satisfying a movie as one could hope for, with a performance from a young actor which is as good as any you’ll be privileged to see.

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originally posted: 10/01/05 15:03:02
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. For more in the 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/09/13 writersreview A MUST SEE MOVIE 5 stars
1/15/07 Skylonda If you don't shed a tear over Musa's struggles here you have a cold heart. 5 stars
2/15/05 Andre Quite long but a authentic impression of a different world. 4 stars
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 20-Nov-2007



Directed by
  David Hickson

Written by
  David McBrayer

  Clive Scott
  Owen Sejake
  Junior Singo

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